« Playing the Immigration Card? Extreme Right-Wing Party Strategy during the 2008-2013 Economic Crisis in Europe »

by James F. DOWNES  | Draft 2015.12

James F. DOWNES  is a Ph.D.Candidate (Comparative Politics. University Of Kent) and a current Visiting Student at the EUAP.


In this paper I examine how electorally successful extreme right-wing parties across Europe place emphasis on issue salience such as immigration which have electoral implications during economic downturns, specifically in the context of the 2008-2013 Great Recession. Drawing on original data, empirical evidence suggests that extreme right-wing parties capitalized on the issue salience of immigration and used the immigration card as a party strategy in order to increase their electoral vote share during the economic crisis. This paper argues that electorally successful extreme right-wing parties framed the economic crisis in socio-cultural terms, in appealing to the threat of immigration and linking the Eurozone crisis that hit European Union member states to their core ideological features of nativism, authoritarianism and populism. In this paper I also find preliminary evidence for evolving party competition dynamics between extreme right-wing and center right parties, specifically in how both party families appear to have benefited electorally from emphasizing immigration salience in the context of the 2008-2013 economic crisis. Therefore, the 2008-2013 economic crisis has rewarded issue clarity, with center and extreme right-wing parties performing better when making salient issues on socio-cultural issues such as immigration, irrespective of national context. I argue that these findings have implications for the trajectory of contemporary liberal democracy in Europe, with the electoral threat posed by center right and extreme right-wing parties, in emphasizing the socio-cultural dimension on the immigration issue which acts as a successful party strategy during times of economic crisis.[1]

[1] The author would like to express a special thanks to Matthew Loveless for creating and providing access to the ‘Change in Party Performance’ dataset. The author would also like to thank Stephen Whitefield and Robert Rohrschneider for providing access to the original expert survey dataset. The author would also like to thank Ben Seyd, Paolo Dardenlli, Daniel Devine, Ian Rowe, and Łukasz Janulewicz for comments alongside Kathryn Simpson for advice. The author would especially like to thank the participants from the Midwest Political Science Association Conference, the Comparative Politics Research Group at the University of Kent and Tom Casier from the Brussels School of International Studies for additional comment.